This, ladies and gentlemen, is what people refer to as a no-brainer. With the emergence of a deal that will be formally announced later today of a group willing to spend $600 million of private money to renovate the KeyArena and do it quickly, it’s only a matter of time before the NHL anoints Seattle as an expansion team and begins the era of the Original 32.
After a litany of schnozzles and a number of stops and starts, it finally looks as though that city will have a place worthy of hosting NHL games with news that the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) plans to spend big money to renovate the KeyArena to make it suitable to host both an NHL and National Basketball League team. That’s an enormous turnaround from two years ago when the NHL last opened its expansion process and the market wasn’t even organized enough to put a bid together. Now there’s a group willing to spend money to rebuild an arena on spec without any official assurances from the NHL.
But backed by NHL heavyweights and billionaires with deep pockets, this one looks like it will materialize. OVG plans to file a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Seattle city council tonight and the document could be voted upon and accepted by early December. When asked about it the developments by THN.com Tuesday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, “I can only confirm that they have informed us of their strong interest. We are continuing to monitor the situation.” But it has long been speculated that the NHL covets Seattle as a market, particularly given there is a gaping hole that allows for a 16th team in the Western Conference. Back in 2015, commissioner Gary Bettman could barely hide his disdain for the fact that Seattle failed to make a bid to join the league.
But things have changed drastically in Seattle since then, to the point where the market checks off almost every box the NHL requires of a new member. First, the league insists there be a building completed or being built. That will almost certainly be the case soon. Well-backed owners? Well, the news that investment banker David Bonderman, whom Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.6 billion, and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer as the lead owners of the NHL team should address that need quite nicely. The deal is also backed by Madison Square Garden and the company owned by Boston Bruins owner and chairman of the board of governors, Jeremy Jacobs, is the lead concessionaire. Oh yes, and the CEO and co-founder of OVG is none other than Tim Leiweke, who was formerly president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Kings.
Those are all pretty attractive to the NHL, but nothing is more attractive than expansion money, which it gets to keep all to itself and does not have to share with the players. And if speculation is correct, the going rate for an expansion franchise has skyrocketed in the past couple of years to the point where the $500 million demanded of Vegas is going to look like a bargain. There is word that the league will ask $650 million to join the club this time.
And this, as much as anything, could have an enormous impact on the landscape of the NHL over the next couple of years. It’s interesting to note that OVG is being very, very aggressive in its plans and hopes to have the building ready for puck drop in 2020-21. Now isn’t that interesting? The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have the option to in 2019 to trigger the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement in September, 2020, about a month before the 2020-21 season is about to begin.
So perhaps the presence of an expansion partner will motivate both sides to get to work on an agreement so an extended lockout could be avoided. After all, both sides would have the motivation – the NHL in the form of $650 million in expansion fees and the players in the additional 23 jobs and the increased revenues an expansion team would provide.
Of course, we’ve seen this movie before. In fact, Chris Hansen has his own MOU with the city of Seattle to build an NBA arena – he has shown no interest in the NHL to this point – that expires Dec. 3 of this year. But Hansen has yet to get a lot of traction for his project. It’s expected that if Hansen passes the Dec. 3 deadline without an NBA team in place, Seattle city council could approve the MOU from OVG as early as the next day.
The Seattle Metropolitans played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915 to ’24 and won the Stanley Cup in 1917. If the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets can come back from the dead, there’s no reason to believe the Metropolitans can’t do the same.
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